Tour of Circuit of The Americas – Part 1


About a month ago, Barb came home from one of her Monday outings with the UT SAGE group that meets on The University of Texas campus, and said that there was going to be a tour of the new Circuit of The Americas race track. She also said that spouses were welcome, and wanted to know if I was interested. I probably thought about it for, oh maybe 2 seconds, and said “Wow! Hell yes, I’m interested!”. So Barb got us both signed-up, and the tour was this past Thursday, April 25, 2013.

For those who don’t already know, Circuit of The Americas was recently constructed just southeast of Austin specifically to be the only Formula One (F1) racetrack in the United States. They have also had other car and motorcycle races on this track since it held its first F1 race in November 2012. To further use the facility, they also build an outdoor amphitheater for live music performances (named Austin360 Amphitheater).

Now I am like most typical Americans – I don’t know anything about F1 racing, other than there seems to be this huge, wealthy fan base that travels from country to country to watch the qualifying time trials and the actual race on the 3rd day. More than 117,400 people were in attendance to watch the first F1 race on November 18, 2012. The week before the first F1 race at Circuit of The Americas, all 24 racing teams were located in Abu Dhabi – which is 10 time zones away from Austin.

Before you can go on a tour of Circuit of The Americas, you have to know how to get there – and most people in Austin do not know exactly where this facility is. I didn’t really know until the evening before we went.

Map to Circuit of The Americas

The race track is located east of Texas Toll Road 130, about 3 or 4 miles south of Hwy 71. Turn east on FM 812, and go about 1 mile. This is what you will see from the front (south) entrance.


That red and white structure on the left is an observation tower, and it is a key feature of this facility.

I was travelling light. I brought only my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and my Whi-Bal card. No camera bag, no tripod, no spare battery, and not even a hat.  The description of the tour that Barb had indicated that we would be driven around on busses. Also, everything would be outside. I didn’t think that I would need any fast prime lenses for that, and I was really hoping that we would at least be able to get off the bus occasionally to get some decent photos.

After eating lunch with several of the SAGE members at the round Hilton Hotel at the Austin Bergstrom airport, we arrived at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) facility at 12:30 PM. It was overcast, and was supposed to remain that way. I did a custom white balance on my Olympus camera and then put my WhiBal card away.

We had about 15 minutes to kill before we were to get on the little busses, so we mingled with the other SAGE members and I took a few photos from the parking lot, and that is when I took the photo at the beginning of this post.


One of the other SAGE members, Dave, took this photo of Barb and I.


This is the only portion of the race track that can be seen from the main parking lot at the south entrance. This is the hill that leads up to Turn 1, and the seats for the spectators that want watch this exciting portion of the track.

Here’s a map of the race track itself

Map of Circuit of The Americas

The start/finish line is where the “A” pin is located.

Here is what the start/finish area looks like from near Turn 1.


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I’d like to point out a few things in that photo. You can see downtown Austin in the upper right corner. The bridge in the center, near the horizon, is on Texas Toll Road 130. The spectators sit in the grandstands on the left.

The building on the right is owned by the Formula One organization, and can only be used by the Formula One organization. It therefore sits idle for 51 weeks out of the year. This building is called the paddock.

(Edited on May 1, 2013. A couple of readers pointed out that those statements simply were not true. I sent an email to COTA asking for their help in correcting this information. Here is what they told me: “The paddock building is only used by F1 during that race. It is rented out for events or used as a spectator area during other events. It is not vacant 51 weeks out of the year.”)

The F1 racers start from a stationary start, and you can see the white markings on the pavement for where each car is to be positioned. They immediately race up a rather steep hill towards where we were standing, and when they get to the top of the hill they have to make a hard left hairpin turn. This is what our view of Turn 1 looked like.


There seemed to be about 50 or more people on this UT SAGE tour, and this photo shows about a third of them listening to one of our tour guides as we stood there overlooking Turn 1.


The tour guides told us that it cost $500,000,000 (half a Billion dollars) to build this race track, and that it was entirely paid for by individual investors. One of the SAGE members brought up that the government (city, county, or state ?) was paying $25 Million a year for the F1 membership, though. People get all worked up over that, and I don’t really understand why. Supposedly Austin gets that $25 Million back by having this track here (tourists, lodging, meals, worldwide exposure, etc.). I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I don’t really care, and this is not a political blog… so back to seeing my photos of this spectacular race track.

There is a large “overrun area” on the outside of this hairpin turn. I don’t know how many multi-million dollar race cars ended up running out into that area….


This is the view when looking beyond Turn 1 over towards Turn 2, with a better view of the observation tower.


The red “pipes” sweep up the back and over the top of the observation tower, where they form a ceiling over the white platform that people get to stand on.

We then got back onto our 4 little busses and drove to the far northeastern edge of the race track, where Turn 11 is located. Here is the track as it approaches Turn 11.


And here is Turn 11. It’s one heck of a hairpin curve!


Here we are blocking your view of this incredible turn. When the tour guide asked how fast we thought that the cars were going as they made their way around this turn, I was thinking “40 mph, 50 tops” (64 kph, 80 tops).


I wasn’t even close! The average speed that they slow to is “just” 69 mph (111 kph). That must really be something to see!

Between Turn 11 and Turn 12, the cars supposedly get up to over 200 mph (322 kph). Turn 12 is just before the stands that you see off in the distance. The rate of acceleration and then braking must really be incredible.


OK so after 10 minutes or so at Turn 11, it’s back to the busses.


We drive over to the middle of Turn 17, and park the busses right at the base of the observation tower.


This observation tower is 251 feet (76.5 m) tall. The elevator has only two stops: ground floor and floor 25!

I have too many photos to show you to cram them all into one huge, slow loading blog post, so I’m going to stop this one right here. I have 15 more photos set aside for Part 2 of this tour (9 from up on the tower).

I will end Part 1 of this story by showing you just one photo from up top. This is the very first photo that I took when I got to look out from that observation tower.


That is Turn 17 in the foreground, and Turn 11 is way off in the distance, near the upper left corner of the photo.

In Part 2, I will not be showing the race track in the order that I took the photos. Instead, I will try to show the turns in the order that the racers encounter them. I hope that you will return in a couple of days to see them, as I am pretty excited about what I have to show you.

Edited June 7, 2013: You can find Part 2 by clicking here.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Neighborhood Macro Photo Walk


For those of you who have been reading my blog for any length of time know that I like to shoot close-up photos, mainly of flowers, but also other things that I find interesting. The “kit” lens that I bought with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera is the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens. This lens has a macro mode, which you get into by pushing a button on the side of the lens, and then sliding the outer barrel of the lens backwards towards the camera. When in the macro mode, the magnification is 0.7 to 1, so it isn’t quite a true macro lens, which is generally defined to have a magnification of 1 to 1. In addition, the lens has its focal length fixed at 43mm (86mm equivalent) when in this macro mode.

Now that spring has fully sprung here in Austin, I really wanted to get out and photograph some of the beautiful flowers that I was seeing from my car as I would drive in and out of my neighborhood.

I remember reading the excellent hands-on review of the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 lens that Robin Wong had put together last September. I decided that it was finally time to open my wallet and make my first purchase of any type of photography equipment in many, many months.

If you are interested in a macro lens for your Micro Four Thirds camera, be sure to visit Robin’s blog to see the fantastic images that he was able to capture with this lens. You can find all three parts by clicking the links that I provide for you here:

Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro Lens Preview

Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro Review: Extreme Close Up Shooting

Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro Review: General Shooting

So, on Saturday, April 13, 2013 I made my first visit to the beautiful new Precision Camera store on Anderson Lane here in Austin. They had only one of the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 lens left, and it looked to be in great shape, so I bought it. They did not have the lens LH-49 lens hood, so I had them order that for me.

When I got home, I only had an hour or so before we had company over for dinner, so I only had time to read through the few pages in the manual, and to re-read Robin Wong’s “Lens Preview” again. I needed to understand the Focus Limiter switch worked (specifically in the “temporary” 1:1 setting).

The next morning, I was anxious to play a bit with my new lens, and that’s when I took the photo above, which is the zipper on the blue pouch that my Lastolite LL LR1250 12-Inch EzyBalance Calibration Card came in.

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It wasn’t until lunch that I had a chance to go walking around my neighborhood with my new lens, but by then, the morning clouds had vanished, and I was faced with direct, hard sunlight.


The first thing that you have to learn to deal with with this lens is the 60mm focal length. That’s a 120mm equivalent on a full-frame camera. That’s good for a macro lens, as you don’t have to be as close to your subject as a shorter focal length lens. That’s a bit much telephoto to be used as a normal “walk around the neighborhood” lens.

The sunlight was very bright, and not diffused by any clouds. Worse than that, there was a pretty good breeze. That’s bad for someone attempting to do some macro photography of flowers – they seem to wag around continuously, and never come to a complete standstill for more than a fraction of a second.

20130414_Neighborhood_Macro_Walk_009As a result, I always took multiple photos of the same flower. Some varieties of flowers seemed to be less prone to constant “wagging in the wind” than other varieties – so I only photographed some flowers 3 times, but many I photographed 7, 8, 9, or even 10 times. Even then, there were a few flowers that I ended up with none of them being “good enough” to show you here, and I didn’t keep any of them….


You might think that I’m being a “sharpness snob”, but I don’t think so. The previous photo and the next photo are not really sharp when viewed at 100% on my 24″ monitor.


This macro lens is supposed to be super-sharp, but this will never be a blog post to prove that! About the only way that I could have improved my situation would have been to use an electronic flash to better “freeze” the flowers with the very short duration burst of light.


I didn’t anticipate the “wagging flower” problem to be as bad as it was. Maybe the 60mm focal length exaggerated it more than I was accustomed to with the 43mm focal length of my 12-50mm lens when it is in macro mode. That probably contributed some to my difficulty, but let’s face it, it was just too windy, but I was determined to play with my new toy, so I just did the best that I could…. and I was having a blast doing it!


Harsh, direct sunlight and a breezy spring day were making my job difficult. The weather was gorgeous, and I was having fun. Those of you who have read this far are having to suffer more than I did. 😉


This next photo is a common dandelion seed head. It’s a weed, but I thought it was pretty.


Hey, now here’s something blooming that wasn’t being affected by the wind!


Those little cacti “spheres” were about the diameter of a baseball. That was small enough to use my body to cast a shadow over it.


Finally, putting that 60mm macro lens to the 1:1 setting, I was able to point it straight into one of the flowers on top of that cactus.


And just so I wouldn’t get run over by a car, I would occasionally watch where I was walking, and then I might see something that a slight telephoto (120mm equivalent) might be handy for.


Palm trees are not common in Austin, but they do exist.


By now it was 2:30 PM, and with the sun directly overhead, I was looking for flowers in the shade, or using my body to create the shade.


By doing so, you sometimes have to put your body into some pretty strange positions, and even then it isn’t possible to always eliminate “hot spots” in the background that you cannot also shade.


I don’t know what this next variety of a flower is, but I like it! I only saw it in one neighbor’s yard.


You’ve seen plenty of this next one, which is a Texas Bluebonnet – our state flower.


Some people plant them in their yard!


Now that last photo had the aperture set at f/8.0, and I was focused on the flowers in the background. The background isn’t as sharp as the flowers, but it’s good enough for this blog post (look at the street sign).

Here’s a photo where I actually focused the lens on a house in the background. That house isn’t “wagging in the wind”, and the bricks and the mortar between the bricks look damn sharp to me when viewed at 100%.


Finally, I arrive at our house at 3:35 PM, and take a photo of this little plant that Barb has sitting outside of our front door, somewhat sheltered from the wind. My shutter speed was 1/30th of a second, so I was thankful for the image stabilization of the camera, which seemed to do a great job even with a 60mm focal length lens.


This blog isn’t a review of this Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 lens. It is just me playing around with my new toy – even though the conditions were such that any sane photographer would have kept the camera at home and just gone out for a walk on a beautiful spring day.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

A Short Walk on East 6th Street

This post is really the tail end of my previous post. Sunday, April 7, 2013, was an overcast day, but I was tired of being in the house. I decided to go somewhere that I seldom go – downtown Austin. I ended up walking south on Congress Avenue from the Texas State Capitol down to 2nd Street, where I turned around and headed back north – until I got to 6th Street.

I was travelling light. I brought only my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and my X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. No camera bag, no tripod, not even a spare battery or a hat.

The truth is, I was just trying to get back to where I parked my car, which was three blocks east of Congress Avenue, on Trinity Street between and East 8th and East 9th Streets. I thought that 6th Street might be a “more scenic” route than 7th or 8th Street.

Within the first block after turning east on 6th Street, on the north side of the street sits the very historic Driskill Hotel, which has very recently been purchased by the Hyatt


I had my lens zoomed to as wide as it would go, which was 12mm (24mm equivalent), and even then I couldn’t get the entire front of the hotel into the frame. This is the only photo that I took that day where I wish I had some different equipment with me. My Canon 5D Mark II with the 24mm Tilt-Shift lens would have allowed me to capture the same photo – and not have the hotel seeming to be falling backwards (due to the perspective distortion). On the other hand, this would have been the ONLY photo that I would have wanted to be lugging that Canon camera (and a bag with at least one extra lens). Instead, this is “as good as I could do, with what I had with me”…

At the very first corner, which is Brazos Street, this is the view looking northeast along East 6th Street. Most Austinites do not see this scene at 4:00 PM on a Sunday afternoon. Actually most Austinites never see this scene, as East 6th Street is a one-way street, with traffic coming straight towards you in this next photo.


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I really don’t have much more of a story to tell. I only walked 2 more blocks along the south side of East 6th Street before I turned north on Trinity Street to get back to my car. Even though I don’t have much of a verbal story to tell, I did capture several photos within those 2 blocks that I would like to share with you!

People from all over the country (the world?) that come to visit Austin and ask “What’s there to do in this town?” are told about East 6th Street as one of the first suggestions. Obviously then, there are several businesses that cater to those who are visiting Austin.


Everyone who lives in Austin has heard or seen the slogan “Keep Austin Weird”. Most find it amusing, but nobody finds it offensive. This web site claims to be the origin of this slogan. I don’t really care, I just liked the tie-dyed T-shirt one vendor had hanging outside their front door.


And while you’re out partying on 6th Street, maybe you’ll have your thought processed altered enough that you might think that this is a good idea. 🙂


But really, the reason people come to East 6th Street is to drink and to listen to live music. I’ve never been to the Chuggin’ Monkey, but I like their sign….


After crossing San Jacinto Blvd, here’s another view looking northeast toward Trinity Street. Note that there really are not any modern buildings on East 6th Street, like there were back on Congress Avenue.


On the southeast corner of East 6th Street and Trinity Street sits Maggie Mae’s. I always thought that it was named after an old (but great) Rod Stewart song called Maggie May, but evidently the real story behind the name of this bar can be found here.


This little blackboard sign was in front of Maggie Mae’s, and I thought it was funny enough to photograph it.


OK, now that I was at Trinity Street, I needed to head north for two blocks to get back to my car. While still standing right outside of Maggie Mae’s, I looked back to the west, towards Congress Avenue, where you can see the modern buildings along Congress Avenue towering over the older buildings along East 6th Street.


Look closer at the photo above, and see if you can see the pair of cowboy boots dangling above the street…

It was just a quick, rather uneventful 2 block walk back to my trusty Honda CR-V.


Even though I had only been walking for 1 hour and 20 minutes, the time had just flown by, and I was certainly glad that I had left the house, despite the overcast and dreary sky that had been so prevalent earlier in the day.

It just goes to show you that sometimes you just need to get out there, and make the best of what you can of it.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Walk on Congress Avenue

Last Sunday, April 7, 2013, was an overcast day, but I was tired of being in the house. I needed to get out and walk around with my camera. I needed to go somewhere where a gray sky wouldn’t affect me and my photography too negatively. I decided to go somewhere that I seldom go – downtown Austin. During my 25 minute drive to get downtown, I noticed that the overcast sky was beginning to break up into a partly cloudy sky.

I was travelling light. I brought only my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and my X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. No camera bag, no tripod, not even a spare battery or a hat.

I drove up and down Congress Avenue, and even at 2:45 PM on a Sunday afternoon, there are no parking spaces available. I ended up parking three blocks east of Congress Avenue, on Trinity Street between and East 8th and East 9th Streets.

I thought that I would head towards the Texas State Capitol Building, which is located at 11th and Congress. As I walked west on East 10th Street, just west of San Jacinto Blvd., I noticed this building with reflections of both a Catholic Church and the Texas State Capitol building.


At the corner of Brazos St. and East 10th, I just looked up at the Texas Department of Transportation building and took this simple photo.


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I was pleased to see that the overcast sky had pretty much dissipated into the partially cloudy sky.

This next photo was taken while standing in the center of the crosswalk on Congress Avenue at 10th St.


I really didn’t have a plan, other than to just walk south on Congress all the way to 1st or 2nd Street and then come back up Congress Avenue on the other side of the road.


There are many, many building along Congress Avenue that have been designated as historical landmarks. It makes for a very interesting mixture of old buildings and modern buildings.


Just south of 7th Street, on the west side of Congress Avenue is this interesting statue of Angelina Eberly.


The plaque at the base of this statue tells this fascinating story: “In 1842 Texas was an independent nation, and Austin was its capital. Sam Houston, the president of the Republic of Texas, regarded Austin as a vulnerable and unsuitable location for the seat of the government and waged an unsuccessful campaign to have it moved to his namesake city (Houston). As a last resort, the President sent a military detachment to Austin to remove the government archives. When an innkeeper named Angelina Eberly discovered the men loading their wagons, she rushed to the corner of what is now Sixth and Congress and fired the town cannon, blowing a hole in the Land Office building and rousing the populace. The citizens chased down Houston’s men, recovered the archives, and gave them to Mrs. Eberly for safekeeping. This statue honors a bold woman whose vigilance and short temper preserved Austin as the capital of Texas. It was presented to the citizens of Austin on September 26, 2004, by Capital Area Statues, Inc.”


There’s no doubt where I took this next photo from. 🙂


I’ve seen Kirk Tuck show this same photo on his blog before, so I thought I’d just put my blatant copy here on my blog….


Looking southeast, one sees the Frost Bank Tower, which is located between 4th and 5th Streets, on the east side of Congress Avenue.


At 422 Congress Avenue is Shiner’s Saloon. I’ve never been there, but I like their sign our front!


We are now down to 3rd Street.


Just north of 2nd Street sits The Austonian, which is a residential building. A t 683 feet (208 m) tall with 56 floors, this is the tallest building in Austin.


At the base of the Austonian, is the little coffee shop Caffé Medici.


I thought that I would get myself a cup of coffee and do stake out a place for some relaxed people watching, but as I poked my head inside, I was surprised at how small, and crowded this place was. I guess it must be very good, because there were at least 15 people in line there to get coffee at 3:30 PM on a Sunday afternoon. Someday I’d like to give it a try, though.

So I crossed Congress at 2nd Street, and took a few photos of one of the Austin GuitarTown guitars, named Twinkle Twinkle Lonestar.


Back in 2007, there were 32 of these guitars scattered around Austin for public display before being auctioned off to help a charity. Dad and I located all of them, and photographed them wherever they happened to be located. You can see them all here. It’s hard to believe that was 6 years ago…

Just north of 2nd Street, there is huge construction site, with three very large cranes. This is future site of the 1000 room J.W. Marriot Hotel.

As I passed that construction site, here’s an interesting view of both old and new buildings in downtown Austin.


Out front of the Frost Bank Tower, sits one of my favorite Austin GuitarTown guitars, named Vibrancy. I guess just like colorful things, and this one uses it very creatively!


A couple blocks north, I turned east on the semi-famous East 6th Street. The photos that I took there will be the subject of my next blog post.

So, the day started out being what I considered pretty crappy for going out and making photographs, but it certainly didn’t turn out that way. It just goes to show you that sometimes you just need to get out there, and make the best of what you’re dealt.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas


OK, it’s been over two weeks since my last blog post. I have been out shooting photos instead of sitting at my computer and writing about shooting photos…. I kinda like it that way, too!  I’m going to try to keep the words to a minimum in this post, but I do need to describe what you are about to see.

For the past 9 (or is it 10?) years, Barb and I have gone to visit her sister’s family in Coppell, TX for the Easter weekend. Coppell is a very nice town just northwest of Dallas, Texas. We drive up on Good Friday, and come home on Easter (Sunday) afternoon. This year, on Saturday, we went to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in downtown Dallas. Yes, the “Perot” is H. Ross Perot, who ran for US President in 1992 and again in 1996.

That’s about all I am going to say for a set-up, except that I do want to mention that cameras are welcome in the museum, but tripods are not. I therefore took 2 fast prime lenses inside the museum with me: Olympus 12mm f/2.0 and Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4. I tried to keep the ISO setting at or below 800 on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. Even so, there were lots of times that the shutter would be open for 1/4 or 1/8 of a second. When that was the situation, I simply took 3 or 4 photos and hoped that one of them wouldn’t suffer from motion blur.

OK, that’s all the words I want to write – except for the photo captions below, and to say that if you are ever in Dallas, the Perot Museum is definitely on the list of fun and educational things to see!

The photo captions will appear below each photo.


Dancing Water Molecules

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Loving Wife



Friendly Stranger





Colors of Light



Shoot the Moon



Phases of the Moon



Fossilized Skeletons



Mammoth Tusks






Huge Bones



Texas Geology



Tornado Maker



Cubes of Gold



Corner Pipes



Molecule Model



Oil Well Drill Bit



King of the Cats



Colorful Life



Image of Me



Stuff you Wish You Didn’t Know

 I hope that you enjoyed my images from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas.

Thank you for visiting my blog!